Emily Bell, PGDE Secondary (English)
'I chose to come to the University of Edinburgh because the programme offered me a 1-year degree with equal parts university-based coursework and practical experience teaching in schools.'
Why did you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?
As a dual citizen, I was privileged to have the choice between completing my teacher training in the United Kingdom or in Canada. I chose to come to the University of Edinburgh because the programme offered me a 1-year degree with equal parts university-based coursework and practical experience teaching in schools. This programme is unique in the way it approaches teacher training and the kind of coursework it enables us to do. I was also seeking a new environment and new challenges – all of which this programme has provided me with. Due to the international status of Edinburgh as a city, the teaching placements have also been diverse in terms of the pupils in front of us and the types of schools and communities we work in - each accompanied by their own challenges.
What aspects of student life do you enjoy the most?
It is so fulfilling to work (and play!) with like-minded individuals. Being surrounded by people who are passionate about education and working with young people motivates me to fully devote myself to my work. Having the flexibility in the day and being able to work on relatively self-made hours (when we’re not on placement) gives me the freedom and choice to structure my week in the way that best suits my own work ethic and lifestyle. It is also so exciting to be in a setting where it is encouraged to ask questions and engage with new ideas and concepts I had never encountered before. However, this programme does not follow typical conventions of student life. Due to the high demand that this programme asks of its students, it is not the kind of 'student life' that I grew accustomed to during my undergrad – we have such a volume of work to get through at all stages of the year, that it has certainly required us to develop discipline and improve our independent learning skills.
What aspects of your degree do you enjoy the most?
The aspects of social justice in education have been a really interesting avenue to explore. I have enjoyed the way that it is centred around the Scottish system and experiences in Edinburgh but are applicable to global issues of social justice that are relevant around the world. I also benefit very much from the structure of the degree in terms of its division between the practical and the theoretical. The cyclical nature of the programme enables us to be continually applying theory to practice and then bringing our questions back to the university before re-joining the working world once more. Thirdly, I appreciate the opportunities we have to work with student teachers from different disciplines as it has greatly broadened my understanding of the profession. Through the 'Professional Studies' class, we are able to share ideas and conversations with student teachers from each discipline in the programme.
What do you find most challenging?
The programme is very demanding in many ways – I have found the most challenging of which to be managing my stress levels and personal time. I am consistently amazed by those with families to care for and part-time jobs they have maintained throughout the year. I have definitely improved my time management skills and am getting better at managing the emotional (and physical) toll that this programme takes. We are taught to consistently reflect and take the time to examine our own practice and seek feedback and observations from our peers and supervisors – which can be incredibly taxing and exhausting at times. As a student from Canada, I was also faced with the challenge of learning about a foreign schooling system. This has been a continuous learning process for me throughout the year. The Scottish system is very different from what I grew up with, so making sure to ask questions and do my research before and during placements has been a leap I’ve had to make. However, the Curriculum for Excellence is still relatively new to most people who are going through the PGDE programme now, as this cohort will likely not have gone through the system themselves.
What do you find most rewarding?
After each assignment submitted or week on placement completed, there is an immense sense of accomplishment of something learned and refined. This whole year has been one of the steepest learning curves I have ever experienced, however, it has also probably been one of the best years too. I feel I have grown more into myself and found a huge sense of my own identity through all of the reflection and self-examination that comes as part of the programme. Each day on placement is tangible evidence of progress and in a programme that is only 36 weeks each of those days is a true marker of advancement. I have also had the opportunity to make some amazing friendships with people who care just as deeply as I do about educating young people through their own subject discipline. These relationships have held me together over the past year; your peers on this programme are the only ones who truly understand the extent to which these experiences stretch you!
What is your favourite course so far?
My favourite course on the programme is the 'Critical Literacies' stream of Curriculum Plus 2. It has stretched my mind to think and question in ways I had not previously had the opportunity to do. It has expanded the lens through which I understand education and has been directly applicable to my teaching practice, both within the classroom and as an individual in the profession. I enjoy the mixture of disciplines in the class and the way in which the class is structured so that we may bring the outside influences of the world inside the classroom context of our discipline. It also pulls strongly on aspects of social justice and the implications of societal inequalities on the education system - an extremely relevant part of the job today.
What do you like most about studying here?
As a newcomer to Edinburgh, I have spent almost every spare minute exploring the city and everything it has to offer. It is a beautiful, interesting and vibrant city, rife with museums, lovely hikes and walks and is a great base for exploring the rest of Scotland. Although opportunities to take advantage of these things can be limited throughout the PGDE year, this programme has enabled me to meet people from all over the UK and Ireland whose hometowns I’ve had the opportunity to visit (or am planning to over the summer!). Edinburgh is an international city, with events such as the Fringe Festival (during which the programme begins) as well as gigs and exhibitions - you’re never short of things to do. The University of Edinburgh itself is world renowned and therefore hosts a plethora of resources and access to multiple libraries. The tutors on the programme are also amazingly accomplished professionals in their field and a diverse set of resources in and of themselves.
How is your programme equipping you for your future career?
The programme is divided into 3 different placements at 3 different schools, which prepares you very well for the diversity of schools in Scotland. With such a variety of experiences under my belt, I feel I will have had good practice in the process of establishing myself in new environments with new expectations. It also means that if you don’t quite enjoy one placement as much as you’d hoped, you only have to be at a certain school for 6 weeks before being given the chance to try it over again at a new school. This programme has also thoroughly developed my reflection skills – I have been taught to pay close attention to reflection in action as a teacher on the job but also after the fact in order to improve and adjust my practice after every class taught. Through close care taken over our 'PDP' (personal development portfolio) each placement, we learn to stay organised and on top of our own work - which has become essential in maintaining my sanity!
Anything else you would like to share with a future student?
Be prepared for those steep learning curves and stressful times! As much as you can, be really sure that this is what you want to do; if this is a back-up plan or second choice, it’s going to be even more difficult and taxing than it already is. However, if this is your passion and you’re as sure as you possibly can be that this is what you want to do, it is incredibly rewarding and exciting to be put in such a position of constantly learning and improving. This programme is hugely dependent on co-operative learning and sharing knowledge with one another, which can sometimes be very difficult as a group of individuals who enjoy being the one in charge in the classroom! However, it has been so beneficial to learn from my colleagues – especially those in different disciplines who typically have very different ways of approaching tasks and thinking about the concepts we explore.